Wearing Your Harlequin on Your Sleeve
by visual artist Carrie Ann Schumacher, creator of the (first-ever?) Harlequin dress
In February 2011, while chatting about an unrelated topic, a classmate randomly interjected about a mutual friend, “We need to find a nice boy for Desi. I think the boy she was seeing in college completely broke her heart.”
I found this hilarious because not a single word of it was true. Naturally, I told Desi, and it became a running joke between the two of us. Whenever we’d bring it up, we’d use her full name, Desiree, of course, because it was all the more poetic and melodramatic. “Desiree and the Boy Who Broke Her Heart”: it was so catchy, and had all the makings of country songs, epic love stories, and, though I didn’t recognize it just yet, a dress.
Carrie Ann’s first dress, Harlequin
At the time this was all happening, I had just completed my first dress made out of romance novels, entitled Harlequin, which finally came into being after a full month of struggle and failure. Prior to that project, I had never created a sculpture, nor had I ever studied fashion design. Therefore constructing the piece had provided many (let’s put it diplomatically) challenges; the piece as it stands today is the fourth incarnation. I was ready for a break from papercuts and hot glue burns.
Detail of Harlequin‘s ruffles
Dress 2: Desiree and the Boy Who Broke Her Heart
However, I could not get the phrase “Desiree and the Boy Who Broke Her Heart” out of my head. There was so much flowery and theatrical potential, so much narrative power in that simple statement that I had to see if I could create a visual to match it. So I got out the trusty hole punch and began punching away, creating the pages upon pages of delicate and girlish “lace” that I knew was essential to the essence of this piece.
Dress detail on Desiree and the Boy Who Broke Her Heart
Desiree provided its own set of difficulties. At the advice of one of my professors, who apparently didn’t feel that the creation of Harlequin was taxing enough for me, I decided to challenge myself and see if I could make these dresses wearable. Therefore, while the stabilizing understructure of Harlequin is paper, Desiree and the Boy Who Broke Her Heart’s foundation is muslin. I am by no means a seamstress, so creating the understructure in itself was a difficult task, especially since I took Desi’s measurements so I could create the dress to fit her specifically. And then came the question of how to adhere the pages to the cloth. In Harlequin, this was as simple a task as gluing paper to paper. I also used glue for Desiree, as the pages are too soft to be sewn, but gluing to a free flowing fabric instead of a stiff structure proved to be more difficult than I originally had anticipated.
Despite the technical issues, Desiree came together and surprised me by how much it truly is the embodiment of heartbreak. Harlequin is a man-eater, both powerful and a bit jaded, but Desiree and the Boy Who Broke Her Heart wears its heart on its sleeve. It is sweet and soft, but also young and naive, a dress of daisy-chains in the sunshine. It is a garment for a girl who loves freely and openly because she doesn’t know how to love any other way. It is truly a dress of first loves and first heartbreaks.
When I took a box of free romance novels that had been donated to the library where I worked, I had no clue that it would lead me into creating dresses. All I knew when I initially saw the box was that if I didn’t take it, I’d wake up in the middle of the night with an amazing idea but sans books, and be kicking myself for the missed opportunity. The use of Harlequin romance novels has proved essential for these works; because the sculptures are intrinsically rooted in storytelling, the books elevate the dresses beyond the level of mere clothing. The context of the material imbues a love story at the very center of the artwork, and allows me to create my own fantasies and romances through control of the form and the giving of a title. As these dress sculptures leave my studio and enter the wider world, I hope that they carry the sentiment of their stories wherever they go.
Carrie Ann Schumacher is a Chicago-based artist with a Masters of Fine Arts degree from Northern Illinois University. Her dress sculptures are on exhibit at Woman-Made Gallery in Chicago through June 21 and at Wellman Exhibit Hall in Hammond, Indiana from June 4 to July 15. Her work can also be viewed online at www.CarrieAnnSchumacher.com and https://carrieannschumacher.tumblr.com. She can be reached at CSchumacherArt@gmail.com. Several new dress sculptures are in the works – contact her with your ideas for a special project.